The annual State of the City is usually a chance for City Hall to praise the business community responsible for much of Santa Monica’s tax revenue. It’s also a chance for City officials to promote their own policies and tout their own achievements.
Both happened during the 2016 event, but aside from the self-congratulatory backslapping was an interesting note by City Manager Rick Cole. When discussing new technology, Cole took a swipe at the newspaper industry for what he described as a lack of innovation.
Cole’s comments can best be described as coming from a place of ignorance. And if that were the end of it, we’d probably just move on. However, these comments were part of a hypocritical pattern Cole is developing that needs to be publicly addressed.
First and foremost, yes, newspapers have had a difficult time recently. The industry has seen significant change, and that change continues. But to say the problems are due to a lack of innovation is remarkably obtuse, and to make those comments without any knowledge of the local industry is recklessly ignorant.
There are at least seven newspapers covering the 8.4 square miles of Santa Monica and four of those are based in the City. If the industry were on its deathbed, the economy wouldn’t support all of us and, as we’ll get to in a moment, the Daily Press isn’t just limping along, but actively growing.
But first, to Cole’s “innovation” crack. We continue to print a physical paper, not out of thoughtless habit, but because it’s what our readers demand. Print circulation far exceeds online readership, and the geography of Santa Monica makes it a uniquely walkable city and therefore a place where readers prefer to pick up a physical paper rather than read on their smartphones.
That’s not to say we don’t have a digital presence, we offer several online options, but our adherence to the print edition is simply good business. Print also continues to be a favorite among our non-newspaper clients.
The Daily Press has expanded its business to include custom publications. We produce publications for local realtors, the Los Angeles Marathon, Downtown Santa Monica, SMMUSD and the Twilight Concert Series. All of those customers (including the City of Santa Monica) actively want print publications because they have a reach, power and focus that digital communication still can’t match.
In a point of apparently unrecognized irony, even the City of Santa Monica sees newspapers as powerful communication tools. At the same event as Cole’s speech, the City of Santa Monica was eager to show the importance of its recent minimum wage increase. The illustration they chose to show the relevance of that action was to display newspaper clippings.
It’s also worth mentioning that Cole’s enthusiastic praise of disruptive innovation failed to mention the City’s recent restrictions on Airbnb or government sponsored efforts to protect the taxi industry.
Our business model has evolved, and like any successful business, we have innovated our way toward growth.
In 2015, the Daily Press made more money than it has in over a decade. Our year-over-year growth is in the double digits, and predictions of our demise would be laughable if they weren’t being made repeatedly by a public figure who has a vested interest in our failure.
Cole has attacked newspapers before and done so in a public setting. It seems that he has a communication strategy that is based in part on undermining independent reporting. At the same time, Cole is building his own communications department and perhaps Cole would prefer that information is limited to the facts preapproved and distributed by the government. We disagree and feel the role we play in the community is vital, if perhaps inconvenient to authorities at times.
Aside from the quality reporting we produce, our op-ed page provides a vibrant, diverse and pointed discussion of local issues. At the same time, we spend significant editorial resources to support local events, causes, people and charities. Our employees also sit on numerous boards, volunteer throughout Santa Monica and the same can be said of the other local publications.
If Cole were part of any of those local groups, or involved in any of those causes, perhaps he would have some experience with the local impact of our industry. But coming from his perch at City Hall, to dismiss that work is, quite frankly, insulting.
We would have happily discussed our business, industry and plans for growth with Cole had he chosen to make a call before attacking our efforts. Instead, he chose to rely on faulty opinions and personal bias. Fortunately for Cole, we will continue to apply a higher standard to the kind of debate published in our paper during this election year and for many years to come.